(February 26, 2021) A couple of anti-Confederate historians have recently adopted two new terms for plantations and the postbellum South. They re-label plantations as “enslaved labor farms” and they portray the postbellum South as a totalitarian “police state.” The first is merely a pejorative expression that provides no new information and the second is better applied to the censorious state of free speech on the college campuses where they teach. Both men demonize mostly long-dead Southern icons as inexcusably racist while ignoring Northern racism. They also create fictions about Southern racism with Robert E. Lee as the chief target.
First, and foremost, the two historians ignore the fact that twenty of the twenty-two states that joined the Union after Texas in 1845 were states where blacks composed only about one percent of the population. The two exceptions are the Southern states of West Virginia and Oklahoma. Such facts suggest that America’s Northern-controlled polity deliberately kept blacks quarantined in the South as long as possible. To be sure, Lincoln’s Republican party generally expressed the motive euphemistically as a desire to block the spread of slavery into 1860 federal territories, mostly located west of Texas and the Missouri River. All of the eleven states that joined the Union after the end of the Civil War until Oklahoma was accepted in 1907 arrived with two new GOP senators.
In 1854 future President Abraham Lincoln said, “The whole nation is interested that the best use shall be made of these [Western] territories. We want them for the homes of free white people. This they cannot be . . . if slavery shall be planted within them.” During the California statehood debates in 1850 Lincoln’s future Secretary of State, William Seward, stated that “The African race . . . and the aborigines . . . constitute inferior masses” that cannot assimilate into American society. Even after Lincoln was assassinated at the end of the War Seward said that he personally had “no more concern for [Southern blacks] than . . . for the Hottentots [of Africa].”
Eight years before the above Lincoln quote, Pennsylvania Congressman David Wilmot introduced a bill to prevent the spread of slavery into any territories that might be acquired as a result of the the Mexican War. During his explanatory congressional remarks Wilmot said, “I make no war upon the South, nor upon slavery in the South. I have no squeamish sensitiveness upon the subject of slavery, nor morbid sympathy for the slave. I plead the cause of the rights of white freemen. I would preserve for free white labor a fair country, a rich inheritance, where the sons of toil, of my own race and own color, can live without the disgrace which association with negro slavery brings upon free labor.”
During the War, Yankees refused to allow Southern black refugees to relocate to Northern states. After Lincoln sent Major General Lorenzo Thomas to the lower Mississippi River Valley to manage displaced blacks, the general wrote back, “It will not do to send them . . . into the free states, for the prejudices of the people of those states are against such a measure and some . . . have enacted laws against the reception of free negroes. . . . You cannot send them North. You all know the prejudices of the Northern people against receiving large numbers of the colored race.”
Even abolitionist Massachusetts Governor John Andrew refused to accept black refugees early in 1863. Only when blacks were allowed to be hired as substitutes for white Bay State draftees did Governor Andrew reverse his opinion and request that the Army send able-bodied blacks to his state in 1864. Recognizing that Andrew merely wanted the blacks as cannon fodder replacements for white draftees Lincoln turned him down. Similarly, newspaperman and future presidential candidate Horace Greeley advocated that occupied Southern lands be given to freedmen in order to avoid black migration into the North. After the war ended Massachusetts Congressman George Boutwell even proposed that South Carolina and Florida be reserved exclusively for blacks in order to keep them far South of the Mason-Dixon line.
Second, the two historians minimize the racial adjustment challenges faced by the respective geographic regions notwithstanding that blacks composed 40% of the population in the former Confederate states and only 1% in the organic Republican states. They falsely presume that Northern Republicans championed Southern black suffrage as a moral impulse whereas most of the evidence suggests it was tactic to use black votes as a tool to transform the former Confederate states into vassal regimes obedient to the infant GOP.
When the Civil War ended the Republican Party was barely ten years old. Its leaders worried that it might be strangled in its cradle if the re-admittance of Southern states into the Union failed to be managed in a way that would prevent Southerners from allying with Northern Democrats to regain control of the federal government. Thus, Republicans needed to ensure that most of the new Southern senators and congressmen be of their Party. Since the region had few white Republicans the Party needed to create a new constituency.
Consequently, they settled on two goals. First was mandatory black suffrage in all former Confederate states, if not the Northern ones. The Party expected that such a mostly inexperienced electorate could be manipulated to consistently support Republican interests out of gratitude. Second was to deny political power to the Southern white classes most likely to oppose Republican policies. They accomplished both goals via the 1867 Reconstruction Acts and the resultant Fourteenth Amendment. As implied earlier, when the states carved out of the western territories entered the Union as Republican strongholds, the GOP no longer needed Southern blacks. Consequently, after twelve years of Southern misrule, the Republicans abandoned the region. Instead of promoting racial cooperation they left behind a witch’s brew of poverty , corruption and racial distrust. White Southerners who had lost their lands due to the onerous taxation required to support the corrupt regimes feared a return of Carpetbag/Negro Rule and blacks feared retribution from a white society impoverished by the misrule.
Nonetheless, Northern Republicans generally controlled of the Federal Government until the Great Depression. They also kept blacks strictly quarantined in the South until World War I. Even then Northerners only accepted blacks due to worker shortages resulting from a demand surge caused by European war combined with the war’s disruption of white immigration. From 1860 to 1920 America had absorbed 50 million white immigrants mostly into the Northern manufacturing economy, which made no room for the South’s four million ex-slaves and their descendants.